Sunday, 30 March 2014

Kitchen Gadget 6 - Pasta machine

In our house pasta is often a quick meal done on a night we are busy. Occasionally we decide to make it more than that and make the pasta from scratch. In order to roll it out thinly we have a pasta machine - two metal rollers that can be adjusted to different thickness's. I have also used it to cheat when making filo pastry - it just about goes thin enough to get away without lots of rolling and stretching!

Although I use a recipe from an Italian cookery book I can't be fussed by the kneading nonsense, so I dump all the ingredients in the bread machine on a knead cycle before letting it rest in the fridge for a while. Once rested I squash it into a flat-ish slab and start feeding it through the pasta machine - a couple of passes at each thickness before turning it up. I often have to split the dough into two batches part way through this process.

A trick I learnt somewhere is that once you have enough length put the ends together to form a loop - if you keep the loop supported with one hand you can just spin the pasta through really quickly.

Finally split the loop and use the rolled pasta. My pasta machine has a tagliatelle cutter so I often make that. Simply feed it through, scoop the strands so they fall into a waiting container (I had a biscuit tin just out of shot) and then spread out on a sheet of parchment before cooking. Pasta this fresh often cooks in less than 2 minutes! 

The finished pasta, served with salad and a roasted tomato and chorizo sauce.

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Friday, 28 March 2014

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

March in the Chicken Coop

This month in the chicken coop...

... they've not been in the coop. Well they have, but after a winter of using it as a shelter from all the wind and rain they've rediscovered their love of the garden. This has it's ups and downs. It's so much fun seeing them explore again, and they're following us round more. Last weekend Joe was trying to plant out a day-lily we'd bought out of season last year (hooray for the "dead plants section"!), but could hardly dig for Pepper checking the loose soil for worms. We almost had a headless hen! On the downside they now start squawking at sun up for the gate to be opened and we're not impressed.

... they've been laying. We're finally up to speed with three regular layers. Fizzy, as always, has decided that eggs are not for her, but we're getting 15-20 eggs a week from the other three which is more than enough to keep us happy!

... getting muddy. At the start of the month Fizzy started to get particularly muddy. Her feathers were all clumped together and we weren't sure she was going to get on top of it again so we stepped in and gave her a bath....

This was after her bath.... still brown but not so muddy.

She wasn't impressed by the peace offering....

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Sunday, 23 March 2014

How To... Re pot an orchid

We got an orchid as a thank you present many months ago. As it had gone to the effort of putting up another flower spike I decided we should re pot it. It's really easy so I thought I would show you just how simple it is. So, unlike my usual instructions, how to re pot an orchid in 4 pictures and less than 50 words:

Soak, then rinse / pick off the existing compost.

Pour in orchid compost around the roots (in a clear pot).

Poke the compost down between all the roots - you need to get a finger dirty sometimes!

Secure the flower spikes with sticks. Water and enjoy.

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Friday, 21 March 2014

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Tartan A-line Skirt

So here's the deal. For many years I had worn jeans, jeans and nothing but jeans. They were comfy, they were safe, they went with all my tops and jumpers making wardrobe choices easy. Then last summer, feeling a little guilty for the small collection of skirts gathering dust in my wardrobe I decided to give them an airing. To my greatest surprise I discovered I now love wearing skirts (quite a change from last time I'd worn them). To top up my collection I had a go at making one - and it went well, then I made a second - even better.

By the end of the summer I didn't want to go back exclusively to trousers for the winter months so I stocked up on tights, packed away my brightest summery skirts and bought some material to make another skirt that would be suitable all year round.

Have you guessed it yet? Yes, it's March and I still have the material and no skirt.

Until now...

I had two main dilemma's that had stopped me progressing with this project. Firstly, that I wanted the tartan on the diagonal, which meant dealing with the material on the bias - something that sounded very scary. The other problem, was when I got it out and looked at it closer (about November time) I realised that the squares on the tartan weren't, well, square. This meant that I couldn't get my head around how the pattern was going to meet at the side seams and I packed it all away for another day.

After watching the Great British Sewing Bee episode on patterned fabrics a couple of weeks ago I felt it was time to go for it. No more faffing, or dilly dallying. The material was £5/mtr so if it all went horribly wrong it wasn't going to break the bank (I was still going to try my darned hardest to make sure it didn't of course).

The grain runs top to bottom (ish)

I took the pattern I'd started from when making my previous a-line and used my quilting ruler to mark on the 45 degree line. Then lined this up with the grain on the material, made sure that the pattern was fairly central, took a deep breath and cut out the first piece. Phew. Then matched this piece up exactly on the fabric pattern and cut a second one. I realised my saving grace was that this material looked identical (to my eyes at least) on the back and the front, so I didn't need to flip one of the two pieces in order to have "right sides together". I could use them both as I'd cut them which meant everything would meet at the sides after all. Hooray!

Knowing that no matter how well I pin things they have a tendency to shift a little as they go through the sewing machine I decided to take my time with this one (very unusual) and tack it all together before I sewed it properly. It would only take the pattern to be a little bit off and it was going to show - not a very forgiving project, and I wanted it to stand up the scrutiny of the more experienced dressmakers around me.

Side seams tacked, zip tacked, darts tacked. Time for the machine. A few minutes later and the main body of the skirt was done and pressed. The zip took a couple of attempts to get close enough, but generally time spent tacking really paid off. It's not 100% perfect, but I'm pretty pleased with it.

Then I spent a while trying to decide whether to line it or not (you'd think I'd make these decisions sooner in the process wouldn't you? Maybe next time...). I tried it on as it was and came to the conclusion that it was clinging to my tights rather a lot so lining was the way forward. I ordered some online and then progressed as far as I could with the waistband while I waited for it to be delivered.

I used the same technique here as my first skirt attempt; making the waistband into a tube for the first couple of inches, complete with button hole; sewing the length of it to the top of the skirt; pressing it in half; pressing a seam allowance under at the bottom and (later) stitching "in the ditch" all the way round to finish.

When the lining arrived I made a second copy of my skirt - this was nice and quick, no pattern matching to do here! I then popped this into the waistband before doing the final "stitch in the ditch" to secure the two parts together. I decided to leave it loose at the bottom.

Finally there was just the hemming to do. (Ha ha. Just the hemming - what a laugh. Must have got close to spending more time getting the hems right than the rest of the skirt put together. Remind me of this next time I get that "it's almost finished" feeling and I still have hems to do). I went for a blind hem on the outer skirt in the end and Joe kindly made me a rolled hem on the lining. Joe also did the buttonhole, it's his machine and apparently it makes buttonholes only for him. When I try it just ties me a beautifully huge knot!

I'm so proud of myself for actually tackling this project. I'd bought the material in a fit of skirt making enthusiasm but bottled out of making it on several occasions. When it came to it my original mental picture of how it would come together worked out perfectly - I should have had more faith!

Sneaky photo of Pepper...

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Friday, 14 March 2014

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Great Swift Bake Off: 2. Biscuits

It's the time of the month that seems to get the most buzz in the office. The expert judge seems to come out of everyone and no two people have the same tasting methodology. It is, all said and done, most excellent! This round we had a slight change in line up, a few new competitors and a couple not competing this time. The end result - seven plates laden with a multitude of biscuits.

For my entry (after extensive testing down the pub on Friday night) I decided to bake a Viennese finger and added a twist with some flavours - ground cardamom and orange zest. The recipe is straight out of Mary Berry's ultimate cake book (1 part icing sugar, 4 parts butter, 4 parts flour + a little raising agent), plus the flavours to taste.

Normally you pipe Viennese fingers but I decided to shape them by hand (after weighing out each one) before scoring them with a fork. This gave a fairly consistent batch - probably better than I would have managed with a piping bag as this dough can end up being very stiff! The final result was dead middle of the field. I need to go for something more manly next time - a biscuit that lasts two bites doesn't satisfy my mostly male office! A mixed result but it leaves me tied second on the overall leader board.

Now it's your turn. What biscuits will you make this month? Pop a link below (be it blog, instagram, facebook or twitter) so we can all come and admire.

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Sunday, 9 March 2014

And he puffed and he huffed...

and he put the fence up!

Three weeks later and we're all back to normal. We've dug in two new posts

Cut notches in them to accommodate the cross pieces of the fence panels (that was hard work!)

Added some bracing to a rotten patch

And finally put the fence panels back in place.

(and hooray for the sunshine - we were outside in tshirts all day, brilliant!)

p.s. The next challenge in The Great Swift Bake Off is approaching. This month two dozen biscuits are the order of the day. We'll open Mr Linky on Wednesday - what will you make?
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Friday, 7 March 2014

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Life's a Game 3. Chronology

This year we're sharing with you our game of the month. These are all favourites from our collection, or ones we play with our friends.

March's game is Chronology

Another charity shop find, this months game takes a little more thinking about - though it is set out in such a way that even those with only a slight knowledge of history can take part and enjoy it. 

Unlike some of the games on our shelves, this one doesn't take long to explain or play, with a game taking around 30 mins. Each player starts with one card face up on the table, then everyone takes it in turns to be read a historical event. If you can correctly guess where this sits in the timeline of events you have in front of you then you get to add the card to your line. The first person to have a set of ten cards wins the game. 

Of course this means that the first round is not that hard - you just need to guess whether the event took place before or after the card you were given at the start. Once you have nine cards on the table, perhaps some of them grouped quite closely chronologically, guessing the location of the tenth can be quite a bit trickier. 

A lot of the cards are based in the last 200 years, but the dates do stretch all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians (everyone breaths a sigh of relief when asked was the building of the pyramids before or after WWII) and could involve the discovery of America, the first successful heart surgery, or the production of the first Barbie. There's no way you could know all the events in the set - but because you only need to know where it sits in history, not the dates themselves, there's always a chance for a guess. 

Good for when a game of Monopoly just seems too long, or for a change of pace from other board and card games, I wouldn't say this was the best game on our shelf, but we've played it multiple times with different groups of people and always seem to enjoy ourselves - and you can't say fairer than that.

p.s. The next challenge in The Great Swift Bake Off is approaching. This month two dozen biscuits are the order of the day. We'll open Mr Linky next Wednesday - what will you make?
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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Planting 'em up

Last weekend we sat down with our box of seeds for a big sort out. We've thrown out quite a few unfinished packs that were several years old (one of the reasons we think for our poor runner bean harvest last year), and this is what we were left with:

Lots of sweet peas. Anyone who followed our harvest updates last year will know we had great success with these, and had bunches through the house all summer. At the weekend we planted loads again; half a dozen seeds per yoghurt pot. Later on we'll plant one pot per supporting pole of our teepee and then find willing friends for the pots we don't have space for.

We also had some nasturtium seeds. We've tried both planting these straight out and starting them inside with similarly prolific results regardless, so we've decided to go for the lazier option this year and we'll sow these outside in a few weeks. To finish off the flowers we have a mix of annuals. Again, we'll plant these all straight out later in the year.

We found the remains of last years salad seeds - a mix of different leaves plus some rocket. We'll be putting all of these to good use once spring has properly sprung.

A collection of herb seeds also came to our attention. We hadn't done much with herbs last year but decided to give these a go. Firstly some basil mats. These were several years old and should really have gone on the rubbish pile but we decided to give them a chance. To join them we have some slightly newer coriander, parsley, chives and basil seeds (yes, more basil). These have all gone into old yoghurt pots for now, hopefully they'll provide us with nice fresh herbs all summer.

Finally, we also planted our broad beans and peas. These have all gone into plugs made of newspaper so we should be able to plant these straight into the ground, plugs and all, in a few weeks.

All our seeds are currently sitting in our conservatory in lieu of a greenhouse or cold frame. It's not as warm as the rest of the house so makes a good gardening room for the moment.

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